Through my post-Goldwater experiences, I’ve learned that I don’t need to be the quickest or strongest mathematician to contribute to my field and make a difference in my community.
I received the 2019 Goldwater Scholarship for research in mathematical cryptography. The following year I graduated with a bachelor’s in pure mathematics and was named both a Knight-Hennessy Scholar and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow. In Fall 2020, I continued my academic journey at Stanford University, pursuing a PhD in theoretical computer science. Earning the Goldwater Scholarship gave me the sense of belonging and inspiration to pursue a career in research.
After a decade in the retail-foodservice sector, I returned to college because I had no options to advance my career. Mathematics captured my imagination at a local community college, and I transferred to the University of South Florida. I felt isolated and out of place in the classroom, lagging behind much younger peers who always seemed to know more and learn faster than I ever could. I doubted my ability to thrive in mathematics, much less contribute to its intricate theories. I wondered if it was a mistake to quit my job for an education.
With persistent encouragement from my advisor, I applied for summer research opportunities and was invited to study coding theory and cryptography at Clemson University. My team and I constructed a novel family of post-quantum cryptosystems – tools that will secure the freedom and integrity of digital information in our increasingly cyber-driven society. Receiving the Goldwater Scholarship for this accomplishment recognized my contribution to cryptography: I felt for the first time that I had a place and a future in research.
Filled with newfound purpose, I furthered my growth as a researcher through fruitful projects at Williams College, UCLA, and my home institution across a broad array of mathematical subfields. I was also inspired to pay forward my small successes by co-founding CodeBreakHERS, a STEM gateway program for high school girls in academically underserved Tampa Bay Area neighborhoods. Through my post-Goldwater experiences, I’ve learned that I don’t need to be the quickest or strongest mathematician to contribute to my field and make a difference in my community.